She remembered my name

students sitting and listening to teacher at front of room

A student describes the difference between school in a refugee camp and American schools.

I was not that lucky to get educated in American schools. I do not have any experience of going to school here. But still if someone makes me describe the education system here in the USA and back in the refugee camp, or Nepal or even in Bhutan, I can collect more points in differences than in similarities.

I did however go to college for one semester here in the USA. On the first day in my English class, a lady teacher came into the class. I was kind of confused because nobody stood up, everyone was just sitting in their seat. I was in a dilemma, what to do, and I didn’t look at her. From the door itself, she said, “Hi, everyone. Everybody responded to her, “H-e-l-l-o,” but it never came out from my mouth. How could I say hello to a teacher, sitting on a chair? Then, smiling, she introduced herself and started calling our names one by one. I had the next class with her again after three days, so again I got a chance to meet the smiling lady. And, here happens the most amazing part of my story (to me, as a refugee). She started with me since I was sitting in the very front seat.

You are Indira, you are Sam, and so on, and she remembered everybody’s name and face.

I am telling my own story because I want to explain how different the education system was from American schools in the refugee camp where I was educated. And now I will fill you in on why I was not comfortable when my teacher entered into that class: I was used in getting up from the seat, with greeting the teacher like, “Good morning, Good afternoon mam/sir” etc. But I didn’t have to do that here. And, the second point, I was surprised when she remembered everybody by their name because in my case teachers remember the names of only those who scored good marks.

If any question had to be answered, only those top students were given chances, not those who scored fewer marks. The third reason why I was surprised was, it didn’t matter where you sit in the class in American schools. Whereas, in the refugee camp, whoever sits in the back were never cared for by teachers and they were not treated well. So, to show my teacher that I was nice and a good student, I choose to sit in the front seat (isn’t it funny to American students).

The class went on and came the day she was testing us, I mean we had our first test.

When she came with our answer sheets, I was so worried that she would tell everybody how much I scored, but it was something different that made me happy. She never told the students my score or my grade. You see, when I was in school, the teacher used to come with answer sheets and used to tell in front of everyone who scored how much.

They would call by name,  Mr. X scored “A”, Mr. Y scored, so on and so on. So everybody in the class got a chance to know each other with their good marks. And, those who scored fewer marks always got a beating from the teacher. I am not lying here, it’s a true story that I am sharing with all of you. Some teachers even forced the first-grade students to beat the students with low scores with sticks. But here, throughout the semester, I never knew who was the best scorer and who was the lowest one.

At our school time, we were provided with a kind of food called unilito (I don’t have any idea what its called in English). It’s just a mixture of flour and water and maybe some salt or sugar on a lucky day, but I never liked to eat but I was forced to eat that. At break time, our teacher used to stand by the school gate with a long stick and if someone tries to run away from eating that unilito then it was dangerous. And, more than 90% of students never liked it so almost everybody tried to run away.

Now when I came here, I learned that in American schools no one is allowed to force anybody to eat school food if they don’t like it or if they don’t want to eat.

How can one chase someone to make him eat which he never like? Everyone has the right to say no here, but where was my right? In the camp, teaching always started with rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin: respecting teachers, cleaning the class, cleaning the surrounding, being punctual, disciplined, hard-working, eating unilito, all were my responsibilities. But, now I wonder, where was my right? Personally, I don’t think we should work that hard to teach a child his responsibilities, just make him aware of rights, and he himself will learn responsibilities.

With the passage of time, my semester in American schools was over. On the last day, my teacher gave me a tight hug and said goodbye. She also surprised me because she had all the papers from class work and tests with her, and she gave me all those back. Later, I was cleaning my college bag and found those papers, where I had given my best to answer her questions. I went through the papers. She had read all of my papers and marked read, nearly everywhere. She had corrected my mistakes and in every paper she wrote, “Indra your writing is great, keep it up.” I was happy with all that care and concern from her and was so sad to recall my past experience with my teachers. I was with her just for three months and only two days a week, still, she did her best to encourage me. She used to love me because I was the only one from abroad in her class.

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I came to know that children who are getting a chance for education in American schools are lucky.

They do not have to worry about how many sticks will satisfy the teacher today or what if they feel hungry or thirsty at school. What if it rains heavy and they cannot make the long return walk home, how to save oneself from that heat of sun at prayer time, what if they had scored less marks on a test and the teacher tells everybody their marks? Or how to tolerate when everyone teases them for their score? Students here joke about not finishing their homework but what if you have to convince the teacher that they had a terrible fever and diarrhea from living in a refugee camp, yet no one cares? (As a refugee from Bhutan, I went to school partially in Nepal, not only in the refugee camp. This is different than many refugees who go to school in the refugee camp).

Everyone is not lucky enough to be an American. I read this when I was a student: “The roots of education are bitter but its fruit is sweet.” I always tried to remember this in my life, yes mine too was a kind of a bitter education, and when I see myself and where I am now, I feel I have those sweet fruits whose roots were very bitter. But its gone now, I had that bitter education which is helping me to find some easier and better opportunities than those who had none at all. I thank god that at least I had some education so that I didn’t have to struggle beyond just learning the language in the USA.

It is not only the school which modifies a child’s life. My humble message to all parents is:

Remember to ask your child how was his/her school or day.

Ask if your child is feeling comfortable or is somebody abusing your child. Also, do not always think about your mind, that you want to make your child a doctor. Instead, think from your heart, your child needs love more than money to become a doctor. Do not teach your child just his responsibilities, let him free to make choices and he will be responsible. And do not forget that the first school of your child is your home and his first teacher is you.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.